Optical Lab Products (OLP) asked members of the optical lab industry to nominate who they view as an “Optical Lab Leader:” those who know what it takes to run a successful optical lab, who take risks investing in the latest technologies, and who have the necessary skills and experience to turn their vision into the reality of operating an efficient and successful optical lab.
While The Vision Council annually honors those who are inducted into the Lab Division’s Hall of Fame, and OLP itself presents its yearly Lab Innovator of the Year, OLP seeks to recognize individuals who are so integral to the success and growth of independent labs yet don’t often receive the recognition they deserve.
In this special section, meet the four Optical Lab Leaders that our readers and members of the optical industry selected as the Organizer, the Early Adopter, the Tech Titan and the Mentor. Here they are, OLP’s Optical Lab Leaders:
SWEN CARLSON, CHAIRMAN
LAB DIVISION OF THE VISION COUNCIL, ALEXANDRIA, VA
BACKGROUND: Seen everywhere from Vision Expo East to Vision Expo West and many events in between as the chairman of The Vision Council’s Lab Division, Swen Carlson made the switch from the computer manufacturing industry to optical when he became superintendent of VSP’s lab in Sacramento, moving his way up the ranks to run VSP’s project management office in the Vision Benefits division. “From there, I was asked to lead our Claims Division through a challenging system implementation and once completed, I talked my way into being allowed to start our Protec Safety Eyewear program,” he said. He then made the jump back to VSP’s Optics Group, moving his family to Ohio to rebuild its lab business in Columbus. It was that role that gave Carlson the opportunity to engage in regional leadership.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: “Numerous business re-engineering projects, including a couple of instances where leadership team rebuilds were needed.”
BEST INVESTMENTS: “Hands-down, recruiting and supporting bright, driven individuals who bring new breakthrough capabilities to VSP.”
TEACHABLE MISTAKE: “A few times in my career I’ve hired before fully, holistically getting to know a candidate,” Carlson said. “The most important responsibility I have as a leader is to invite the right new leaders into the VSP family. I’ve learned to take my time to ensure a good fit for both the organization and the candidate. When this happens, it’s a wonderful thing.”
ADVICE: In business, Carlson quotes Winston Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results,” and in life, Carlson quotes Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
DAWN FRIEDKIN, PRESIDENT
CLASSIC OPTICAL, YOUNGSTOWN, OH
BACKGROUND: Dawn Friedkin’s career in optical dates back to 1977, traying up frames and lenses during summer breaks from school. She did that throughout most of high school but then college, law school and a job in government and public policy took her away from the lab. She returned to the lab business about 20 years after her first lab job to help out at Classic Optical after a change in the lab management software system caused an IT “disaster.”
“It was that strange twist of fate that brought me home and it has been a wild ride with a fantastic team ever since,” Friedkin said, adding the lab has grown from 50 associates producing about 300 jobs per day to 250 employees processing more than 5,000 each day. Last year, after a record 2017 in which the lab produced 1 million pairs of eyeglasses, Classic Optical not only exceeded 1 million pairs but also embarked on a building addition and facility reengineering to increase capacity. “When it’s complete, we will have a facility that can manufacture 10,000 pairs of prescription glasses a day,” she said.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: In addition to her 12-year-old son, Friedkin cites her best achievements as providing employment to more than 250 to support their families in the community in which she grew up, plus the lab’s commitment to providing eyeglasses to those in need. “We’ve provided eyeglasses at no cost to more than 75,000 school children a year in 16 states and more than 2,500 schools, including my own elementary school,” Friedkin said.
TEACHABLE MISTAKE: After losing a government contract that accounted for 25% of the lab’s business, Friedkin said she learned the importance of diversification. “I realized we couldn’t take the business we had for granted. We always had to be prepared for change and disruption and had to focus on ensuring we bring added value to customers,” she said. “This attitude made me open to different types of work that we had not traditionally done and also motivated me to create new opportunities for Classic.”
BEST INVESTMENTS: Classic Optical has made significant investments in technology and automation, including the purchase of nine MEI Bisphera machines, but to Friedkin, it would be worth nothing without investing in people. “From senior leadership to our employees working on the production line, we focus on engagement through continuous training, mentorship and professional growth.”
ADVICE: “Know yourself and hire talent to complement your strengths and compensate for your challenges,” Friedkin said. “Never stop learning and don’t be afraid to learn something new or to make mistakes, but don’t make the same mistake twice.”
JOHN JORGENSEN, LAB MANAGER
FEA INDUSTRIES, MORTON, PA
BACKGROUND: John Jorgensen started his career in 1989 and spent 15 years working in the retail side of the optical industry before switching to the wholesale side of the business, helping labs rebuild and realign them to use lean/six sigma fundamentals. Jorgensen also worked for 10 years as technical director for Eye Care Centers of America and then at Classic Optical for five years before starting at FEA in 2017.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS: “Having started in the industry as the guy who swept the floor, I was given the opportunity to grow to where I am today, gaining the ability to understand how eyewear is made from cradle to grave and all the stops in-between,” Jorgensen said. “It has allowed me to return the knowledge to the new generation of lab and maintenance techs.”
BEST INVESTMENTS: “The integration of MEI edging equipment has been one of the most valuable pieces of equipment any lab could own,” he said. “In addition, the time and effort that is applied to employees to help grow their education is an investment not only in employees, but also in the industry.”
ADVICE: Jorgensen said a lot has changed in the last 30 years, with more advanced technology. On the flip side, some skills are disappearing, so it’s crucial for experienced managers who have certain skills to be active in passing them down. Quality, he said, still requires craftsmanship. “Never hang your hat on what you may think you know to be right. Always validate, as these findings may surprise you and change your outlook for better or for worse, but at least you can define the next needed path to success.”
TEACHABLE MISTAKE: In recalling an incident in which there was a problem with a blocker, Jorgensen said what he learned goes back to his advice: “Never hang your hat on what you think may be right.”
“When the person working on the machine told me it was done and ready for use, I ran with it and blocked and edged roughly 350 jobs (700) lenses and stayed late into the night to complete. The next day while inspecting these jobs I found a dot in the middle of each lens and all had to be re-ran. It was a horrible feeling.”
SCOTT PEARL, MANAGING DIRECTOR
DIGITAL EYE LAB NETWORK, HAWTHORNE, NY
BACKGROUND: Scott Pearl began his optical industry career in lab sales. In 2007, he conceptualized the idea to fabricate digital lenses on, and with a team of just 12 people and one fabrication line, Digital Eye Lab was born. Today, DEL has fabricated more than 4 million lenses with more than 300 employees and multiple facilities.
Accomplishments: Pearl said his greatest accomplishment is providing employees with stable and successful careers. “I believe strongly in training and providing career pathways for our personnel,” he said. “We have made huge strides in optimizing our workforce planning across our network, implementing new production methods and data systems and training employees in the latest technologies.”
TEACHABLE MISTAKE: Pearl said it admittedly can be difficult for an entrepreneur to delegate tasks and responsibilities. “One mistake I learned from is waiting too long to transfer and delegate responsibilities that I was sure only I could handle,” he said. “I’ve learned that if you hire and develop the right team and provide them with the tools and resources they need to thrive, delegating responsibilities becomes much easier.”
BEST INVESTMENTS: People are the best investment a company can make, says Pearl. Training and opportunities for career growth, he added, are essential to meet the demands of customers. “We take pride in investing in every department within the organization, knowing that the success of our staff contributes greatly to the success of the company,” he said. Pearl is particularly proud of DEL’s partnership with ARC of Westchester, an organization that connects individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to local employers. The DEL Network lab in Hawthorne, NY, currently has eight, full-time employees recruited through ARC of Westchester. “Our work with this charity has made a positive impact not only in the community, but also throughout the company,” he said.
BEST ADVICE: Plain and simple, Pearl said concentrate on employees and company culture. “When you are good to your employees, they will take pride in what they do and they will love coming to work and accomplishing things as a team.”
PERSONAL QUOTE: “Concentrate on the success of your staff. If they are successful, then they will serve your customers. If your customers are cared for, the business will be successful.”